“I-We” Sociality and Gadamer’s “Fusion of Horizons”

In Kathleen Wright’s article, “On What We Have in Common: The Universality of Philosophical Hermeneutics,” she writes the following regarding Gadamer’s understanding of the universality of hermeneutics:

“the universal aspect of hermeneutics has to do with the community we join and the communion we feel in and through the fusion of horizons.”

What Wright wants to highlight is that according to Gadamer a “successful conversation” involves the interlocutors forming a community and being changed or transformed by the subject matter of the conversation. We can easily see what Wright calls the “I-we sociality” involved in a conversation between two living, breathing individuals, but how are we to understand this sociality when the conversation partner happens to be a text? “With whom or with what does the interpreter actually share an understanding? Gadamer seems to be responding to this kind of question when he states that, ‘It is more than a metaphor; it is a memory of what originally was the case to describe the task of hermeneutics as entering into a conversation with the text (Truth and Method 368). Gadamer maintains, therefore, that the shared understanding, the ‘fusion of horizons,’ that comes about through the interpretation of a text is social in the same I-we sense as the shared understanding, the ‘fusion of horizons,’ that we achieve through a conversation” (p. 237). Here I think that a musical analogy (or two) might help in shedding light on Gadamer’s claim. Consider a solo piano piece written by Beethoven (the score being analogous to a “text”) and its performance (interpretation) by a 21st century pianist. The pianist does not simply approach the score in a monologue fashion, but rather attempts to enter the lifeworld of the piece—a lifeworld that goes beyond Beethoven, as Beethoven himself stood in a tradition of musicians and his composing reflects the various influences of his musical predecessors (Haydn, Mozart, etc.). Likewise, the pianist herself represents a musical tradition—a tradition which perhaps has been shaped by French impressionism and a genealogy of Russian composers. Consequently, when the pianist performs Beethoven’s piano concerto, she, as well as, the piece itself are transformed and a ‘fusion of horizons’ takes place. In a sense, the “conversation,” has been going on for some time (several hundred years); the 21st century pianist (the “I”) is simply joining in (and participating in the “we” and vice versa).

10 thoughts on ““I-We” Sociality and Gadamer’s “Fusion of Horizons””

  1. Cynthia,

    Nice posting. You know, there seems to be a great deal in common between the I-We sociality found in Gadamer’s fusion of horizons and Alasdair Mcintyre’s understanding of a tradition/practice. That is, a tradition forms the interpretive horizon (hermeneutic), as it were, through which the intelligibility of the practitioners (of a particular tradition) as well as their actions (qua practitioners) is disclosed.

    It also occurs to me that with respect to praxis, such horizons/traditions are capable of providing a robust response to Sartrean bad-faith, especially that which comes about as a result of role-playing. The communal nature of the person can be saved, then, without forsaking his own subjectivity. I don’t know what most think, but that always seems like a plus to me.

    All the best

  2. Dear Anxietas,

    Thank you for your kind comments. I purchased McIntyre’s book, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? this past summer but have yet to read it. However, from what I have read about McIntyre, I could imagine his view having a good deal in common with (the little that I know) about Gadamer.

    Would you unpack further your comment below, i.e.,
    “It also occurs to me that with respect to praxis, such horizons/traditions are capable of providing a robust response to Sartrean bad-faith, especially that which comes about as a result of role-playing”? (I ask because I know even less about Sartre and would like to engage your comment on a more meaningful level).

    Warm regards,

  3. Dear Cynthia,

    As you probably know, Sartre understood human being in terms of two “domains” of being, namely, being-for-itself (that which negates and from which freedom and transcendence arise) and being-in-itself (that which is indistinct, inert, just there).

    For Sartre, then, a human can be in, what he calls, “bad-faith” (or what Heidegger would call “inauthentic”) in two ways: bad-faith according to being-for-itself (in which one denies his or her own facticity) or bad-faith according to being-in-itself (in which one forsakes his/her freedom, as it were, and simply “does what one does”). In this latter kind of bad-faith one simply becomes a face in the crowd and does “what one does” simply because it is what one does. In other words, one becomes imerseed in what Heidegger would call DasMan, “The They.” As a result, to act in any way other than an individual results in a kind of bad-faith, wherein rejecting his freedom one simply plays “a role”–for example, the university professor will wear a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, the avant guard will hang out in smoke-filled cafes and attempt to write poetry, a nurse will act with a pseudo-sense of care for the patient, a police officer will chomp on his gum in an attempt to act authoritative and commanding, etc.

    To be a participant in a tradition, however, is not simply to play a role, it seems to me. Rather it is to enter into an ontological reality–the social dimension of human being–and participate in that. To take a religious example, when consecrating the host the priest is not simply acting as a priest ought–although some might do so–rather he is entering into a living tradition, such that his own actions become a re-enactment of an ontological mystery resulting in the presence of the mystery itself. And, again, it is only within a tradition that such actions or re-enactments attain their meaning, significance, and intelligibility and do not dissolve into the absurd meaninglessness of bad faith. Participants in authentic traditions do not sucumb to bad faith, it seems to me; but the task then becomes to determine which traditions are “authentic.” Here I think McIntyre can be of some use.

    I hope that makes sense.

    All the best.

  4. Dear Anxietas,

    Thank you for your helpful explanation and for connecting the Satrean concepts with the Heideggerian concepts (e.g., bad faith and inauthenticity; bad faith in terms of being-in-itself and Heidegger’s Das Man). Also, I think you are right to point out that being a participant in a tradition is not simply to play a role (your priest/eucharist example is good). Do you think the Christian tradition, where we find the ultimate ontological reality being plural and social(Father, Son and Holy Spirit), provides the best explanation of why we as human participants in a tradition as you say, are engaging in something more than simply role playing, but are entering into an ontological reality (social dimension)? Does that make sense (at least to some degree)?


  5. Cynthia,

    Yes, you make abundant sense and I think you’re absolutely correct. If God is Tri-Une, a unity contained within a community, then humans, being made in the image and likeness of God, necessarily imitate and disclose that communal nature within their very being. Humans are essentially social and, as Karol Wojtyla suggests, can only find themselves through a sincere “gift of self.” Through mutual self-giving and receiving humans affirm and validate their sociality, but, more than that, they become one–they attain a kind of social unity, which, again, is an image and reflection of the absolute Unity of the Trinity. You will also note giving and receiving all occurs within the framework of praxis–although, to be sure, one can approach the same situation contemplatively.

    Best wishes.

  6. Dear Anxietas,

    If you have written any chapter summaries (or other writings) related to McIntyre’s work and would like to appear as a “guest post” invitee, let me know. My email is [email protected]. I have enjoyed (and learned from) a number of your comments this past semester.

    Thanks again for furthering this conversation.

    Warm regards,

  7. Dear Cynthia,

    Many thanks for your invitation to be a guest poster. Unfortunately, at present I do not have any such chapter summaries of McIntyre’s work, and probably won’t for a while. I’m waist-deep in writing a dissertation right now and am hoping to get it done by next semester. That doesn’t allow me much time for any outside reading or anything else for that matter. But I’ll certainly keep your invitation in mind once the beast, er I mean dissertation, is done. Thank you too for the conversation and for your wonderful blog. It’s always a pleasure to visit Per Caritatem!

    All the best

  8. Dear Anxietas,

    I totally understand your time constraints, and will certainly keep your “name on the list” for guest posters.

    Blessings on your work and as the Russians say, С Роджестсом! (Merry Christmas!),


    p.s. What is your dissertation topic?

  9. Cynthia,

    The dissertation is on the analogy of being in Thomas Aquinas. I’m writing it with one eye on the historical context–so to speak–and the other on post-modern critiques of philosophies of being (e.g., Heidegger and Marion).

    Merry Christmas to you too.

  10. Dear Anxietas,

    I would love to read it when you are finished and would be happy to pay for a copy.


Comments are closed.